Today, there’s some good news in the fight against identity scammers. A 3-year investigation into Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee impersonators concluded this week. As a result, 56 individuals were indicted and dozens are already in custody for their roles in intimidating Americans into paying IRS bills they did not owe.
“The largest single amount paid as a result of the IRS impersonation scam as charged in the indictment is $136,000, paid by a victim in California,” J. Russell George, Inspector General for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) which oversees the IRS.
In all, federal officials estimate that the call center network raked in over $50 million in fraudulent charges.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) was also part of the push to shut down these individuals and five call centers based in Ahmedabad, India
“To potential victims, our message today is simple: U.S. government agencies do not make these types of calls, and if you receive one, contact law enforcement to report the suspected scam before you make a payment,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said at a mid-day press conference.
The gathering of federal agencies offered a rare glimpse into the scammers’ world and their methods of operation.
“Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators allegedly called potential victims while impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” he added.
The indictment indicated call center operators then “threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.”
In the $136,000 extortion case, a man in California was called and harassed over a period of 20 days. In a second case, a caller extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim using similar threats.
Victims paid the money by purchasing gift cards or pre-paid debit cards. Funds on those cards were then rapidly moved outside the U.S.
TIGTA has received over 1.8 million complaints against IRS impersonators since 2013. While just 9,600 reported losing money, they added up to tens of millions of dollars.